Since the coronavirus has turned our whole world upside down in the last few months, many industries are now struggling with how to return to work as the country reopens. The legal profession is no exception as partners, associates, outside general counsel, professors and even law students adjust to a new legal environment that may never return to business as usual.
Because lawyers and legal personnel have been forced to work from home during the outbreak, many firms have realized that working remotely is both technically feasible and possibly more cost-effective than inhabiting large office spaces. Consequently, law offices may be reserved for client meetings, larger events, and specific paralegal work rather than as daily destinations for the entire staff.
In addition to law firms, many corporate legal departments have recognized the value of using remote work tools such as legal management software. Not only do these applications foster collaboration, but they enable users to complete tasks such as invoice approval and contract review without having to visit the office.
Indeed, the increased volume of Covid-19 related inquiries from clients has pushed law firms to become more tech savvy as they try to keep up with the increased demand from corporate clients for communicating business developments regarding the coronavirus to their own employees and vendors.
Some firms have taken things a step further by creating coronavirus task forces consisting of lawyers from different practice areas. Many employers simply want to know how to treat employees who have symptoms of coronavirus or who been exposed to someone with coronavirus. In these cases, an employment lawyer on a task force could advise the clients about the latest guidance from the CDC regarding when employees should self-quarantine. Indeed, many law firms stress the need for companies to have a plan in place for employees exposed to or diagnosed with the coronavirus.
One of the main ways that the Covid-19 crisis has transformed the legal profession is by changing technology skeptics into believers. For instance, one firm recently started using a knowledge management system to avoid duplicating efforts from overlapping client requests about coronavirus issues. With this software, lawyers can upload important legal information that may benefit others in the future.
While firms have tried to implement similar platforms in the past, they often met with resistance. The coronavirus outbreak, however, has pushed more people to embrace these systems. In other words, people no longer have the luxury of resisting change just because they aren’t comfortable with it.
While many law firms have continued to service clients during the pandemic, they have also been directly affected by the virus. For this reason, firms must also have their own disaster preparedness plans in case their own employees come down with coronavirus. If law firms don’t handle these situations responsibly and according to current guidelines, they could even be subject to legal ethics violations.
The current upheaval has many firms bracing for a slide in the economy in which many companies might not even be able to reopen. For instance, canceling or postponing large-scale conferences or trade shows impacts all of the different companies involved.
As a result, many firms are already fielding calls from companies questioning their contractual obligations during a pandemic. For this reason, firms that handle business contracts or commercial leases may even see an increase in activity.
In addition, bankruptcy lawyers are likely to experience greater demand from companies and individuals needing to liquidate their holdings or hoping to restructure their debt in order to stay afloat.
While it’s pretty clear that we will have to live with Covid-19 for the immediate future, the technological changes sped up by the outbreak may have reconnected the legal profession even as its workforce remains physically distant. Moreover, the economic slowdown that will hamper so many industries for months and possibly years to come may generate added business for some legal practice areas. The firms that will thrive in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, are the ones nimble enough to take advantage of this business through the right combination of technology and preparedness.